Gilbert Arenas' Play Will Start Point Guard Controversy in Orlando
The Orlando Magic didn't bring Gilbert Arenas to town -- with four years and almost $80 million left on his contract -- to sit on the bench for very long.
Arenas, in just his third game since the trade to Orlando, played his reserve role to perfection Thursday night and said all the right things afterward, but he also provided a glimpse of how much better the Magic can be with him in the game.
Jameer Nelson, the starting point guard since 2006, is about to lose his spot.
The rebuilt and revitalized Magic broke out of their slump Thursday night by destroying the San Antonio Spurs -- who still have the best record in the NBA -- when Arenas gave them a much-needed lift.
Although Arenas has gone overboard deferring to Nelson since he arrived last Saturday from Washington, his play alone will begin raising the issue of who gives the Magic the best chance of winning a championship.
And the refrain will likely be Arenas, the three-time All-Star and once one of the most dynamic offensive players in basketball.
"It's hard to say what I'll do as we move forward,'' said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy when asked about the possibility of Arenas starting. "Anything is possible. Could it (the lineup) change? Sure it could change. We've only been together four days.''
Before Thursday's game, Van Gundy left a note in Arenas' locker, reminding him to just play naturally and free instead of trying too hard to fit in with his new teammates. The note was well received.
Arenas became a difference maker. When he replaced Nelson with 2:24 remaining in the first quarter, the Magic were trailing by six points. Arenas stayed in the game until halftime with the Magic leading by nine. He had seven points, four assists and three rebounds in that second period when the Magic took charge.
He replaced Nelson less than two minutes into the second half and the Magic were leading by 11. By the end of the period they were leading by 21.
"He (Arenas) changed the game,'' said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. "Gilbert spread it. He hit two or three buckets in a row, and made a big difference.''
Nelson, to his defense, played only 21 minutes Thursday because he was in foul trouble and also wasn't feeling well, having a problem with dehydration. He finished with seven points and four assists, hitting three of his four shots.
Arenas had 14 points, nine assists and six rebounds in 29 minutes.
Van Gundy has said repeatedly that both Nelson and Arenas will share time at point guard, and also play together with Arenas at shooting guard. The Magic, though, already have both Jason Richardson and a much-improved J.J. Redick sharing time at shooting guard.
"I can't control who plays when and who plays where,'' Nelson said when asked about possibly losing his starting role to Arenas. "I'm not concerned about that. I just play the minutes given to me. I'm not concerned about who plays when and who starts. I just play when asked to play.''
Arenas, who was thrilled to leave Washington and the controversy that surrounded him there, made it clear that his preference -- at least for now -- is to play in a reserve role behind Nelson.
The last thing he wants to do is cause any problems for his team, his coach or the general manager who traded for him.
"I'm coming off the bench. Jameer is starting,'' Arenas said when asked about the possibility of replacing Nelson. "I don't want to start. This team is too talented. In this role, I get to play against the second unit. It gets my ego up a little bit.''
After losing four consecutive games -- two before Arenas, Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu arrived and two afterward -- the Magic were thrilled to beat the Spurs.
It also showed the kind of offensive potential they have with a this revamped roster. It's loaded with offensive weapons. The Magic have not had a full practice since the new players arrived, and it looked like in the previous two games.
"A month from now, we're going to be dangerous,'' Arenas said. "Everyone is so scared of Dwight (Howard's) dominance that it helps out everyone. It makes the game easy.''
The Magic (17-12) will get another good test Saturday against the Boston Celtics, who have the best record in the Eastern Conference.
"Tonight shows the possibilities with this group,'' said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. "We keep talking about how we've taken a step back (after the trade), but tonight we took a step forward. Gil came in very aggressive. Look at his line (14 points, nine assists, six rebounds). That's a good all-around game.''